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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Eco-friendly anti-poaching camp ready

R. KRISHNA KUMAR Special Arrangement The pilot project at the Avarepura camp in Bandipur will be handed over to the Forest Department shortly. Bandipur Tiger Reserve will shortly get what is billed as the country’s first eco-friendly anti-poaching camp with renewable energy and sustainable technologies complete with solar energy and rainwater harvesting system. A pilot project of the anti-poaching camp has been constructed at Avarepura camp in Moleyur range of Bandipur and will be handed over to the Forest Department in the next few days. The pilot project, Araynyaka, is supported by the Centre for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technologies (CREST) at the National Institute of Engineering, Wildlife Conservation Trust, Voice for Wildlife Trust and the Forest Department. It has been implemented at an estimated cost of Rs. 8.8 lakh. S. Shamsundar, Director, NIE-CREST, told The Hindu that the existing camps at Bandipur were not suitable for prolonged stay and hence, a pilot project has been taken up with the use of renewable energy systems. The design and the implementation part has been taken up by NIE-CREST and the structure entailed using stabilised mud blocks which obviated the use of burning firewood to dry bricks. The use of stabilised mud blocks also provide good thermal comfort, Prof. Shamsundar said. The stabilised mud blocks were prepared on site at Moleyur using local soil mixed with 9 per cent cement, and unlike traditional clay bricks, these blocks need not be burned for drying but just needed curing for 21 days, he added. Water being a critical requirement in the jungles, the anti-poaching camp has been provided with a rainwater harvesting system with a storage capacity of 9,000 litres. He explained that given the annual average rainfall at Bandipur, the yield through rainwater harvesting technique is nearly 43,000 litres of water per year and hence, there will be assured water availability for almost eight months in the camp. The solar energy system to be installed in the camp will suffice for lighting the camp as also recharging wireless sets. He said that the incorporation of these technologies fulfilled the energy and water needs of the camp to a large extent and helps in conservation of wood and water. The building will also have fuel-efficient biomass cook stove which will provide for smokeless cooking. Sudheer of the Voice for Wildlife Trust said that the project was significant from the enforcement point of view as it will be a self-sustaining anti-poaching camp with its own source and supply of water and power. “In many of the anti-poaching camps, water is physically supplied and if it is not done, they have to walk at least 3 km to bring water to the camps. We are creating water security and a self-sustaining environment, smoke-free cooking environment, sanitation, security and comfort for the anti-poaching camp staff engaged in the crucial task of wildlife protection,” Mr. Sudheer said. B.G. Hosmath, Field Director, Project Tiger, said that the camp was likely to be handed over to the Forest Department in a few days and once transferred, its efficacy and feasibility would be studied for a few months. “It is only after ascertaining its feasibility and the performance of the technology that the Forest Department could think of replicating such camps in other places,” he added.

More at stake than just the tiger

In protecting the big cat, we protect the forest and all those that live within it. We protect our rivers and the groundwater. We protect the life-cycle of this planet itself. If we can’t do that, we can write off our future, and the future of coming generations Forty years after the inception of Project Tiger, the population graph of the big cat looks more like a graph at the daily stock exchange! Somehow, in spite of the best intentions and efforts from the Government, non-Government organisations and even individuals, the tiger’s future still remains a question mark, with more than a few opinions out there predicting total extinction within the next 10 to 20 years. This is of course, after all, only an opinion, but one which could become frighteningly true. It’s not really a matter of getting the date right of when the tiger will go extinct, but the fact that it will be wiped out eventually — unless we do something now. With hugely popular campaigns that went viral like Save the Tiger, the word most certainly is ‘out’ there, but that’s just it — word out there. The action is missing still. Thanks to years of constant broadcasting of the issue, the challenges of tiger conservation are public knowledge. Poaching, habitat destruction, poisoning are what we’ve all heard quite often. Awareness is at an all time high and everyone knows the Jungle bachao, sher bachao (save the forest, save the tiger) chant. But there still remains that elusive gap between information and action. Since the last tiger census in 2011, India has already lost over a 100 tigers to poaching. Maharashtra, which has 169 resident tigers (2011 census), went on high alert earlier this year when a tip-off of a poaching contract was received. There was literally a price put on the head of 25 tigers and many lakh rupees had exchanged hands as advance payment. The scale and the audacity just goes to show what the tiger is up against. Just a few months ago, a tigress was poached in the Itanagar zoo. The poachers tranquilised her and then hacked her to pieces. What is even more shocking is that this not the first incident in the zoo. In 2006, three tigers and a leopard were poisoned. One tiger died, while the other two other animals survived. A special tiger task force, shoot on sight orders and a Schedule I status for the tiger have not been a good enough deterrent. (Schedule I is the highest protected status for an animal in India under the Wildlife protection act of 1972.) The ‘value’ of an apex predator like the tiger goes far beyond what is obvious to our eye. Sure, we’ve all had the life- cycle image from our school textbooks imprinted on our brains, but what is so simply illustrated is multi-layered and complex. The water cycle is at the very centre of all of this. Without it, everything as it is would cease to exist. As humans, we’ve taken far beyond our fair share of the planet, and the delicate balance of nature we often speak about won’t just tip — it will spiral. We’ve already witnessed three sub-species of the tiger lost to extinction; others are on the brink. In 2010, I had the opportunity to attend the Tiger Summit in St Petersburg ,and it was really a coming together of all the tiger nations. Ministers, tiger experts, celebrities and individuals who cared or worked for the tiger, were there. Each country made a presentation and announced its commitment to doubling the tiger population by 2020. It was a huge event covered internationally, with celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio adding glitter to it. It was at this event where I met a local activist who was campaigning to save the forests in Russia that were threatened by logging, mining and oil exploration. She was desperate to get this information to President Vladimir Putin, and kept saying: “It’s not only the tiger, we have to save the forest”. She is right. We need to save the forest to save the tiger. It’s a beautifully simple plan that will take all the positive intention on the planet to execute. Unfortunately, we already have examples of what happens when the tiger disappears. The island of Bali, which was home to the Balinese Tiger, stands as evidence. Being an island, Bali only had a local population of tigers with no migrating animals coming in or going out. The last recorded tiger was shot in September 1937, and after that Bali lost its forests to agriculture. All that remains now are fields and an economy that is floating on tourism. Fresh water is a huge issue in Bali. Extensive deforestation and over-consumption of water by huge resorts have drained the fresh water resources of the island. With the majority of the forests gone, the rivers and the groundwater are drying up. This has happened to many small islands and isolated communities in human history and the most well-known example is that of Easter Island in the south-eastern Pacific Ocean. The forests of Easter Island were almost completely deforested by its people. What followed was complete destruction and degradation of the eco-system over a period of time. Agriculture was reduced because of soil erosion and fishing wasn’t possible as there weren’t any large trees left to build boats. The lessons of history are quite clear in what we can expect if things continue the way they are. To protect the forests and all those that live within it, it is crucial for a ‘happy human buffer’ to exist around such forests. Communities that live close to the forests have to be given special benefits and the support to move beyond the basic levels of existence. With a huge tourism industry around the ‘tiger’, (which we witnessed recently when tourism was banned in all tiger national parks), the benefits of this economy barely trickle down. There are people and NGOs who are doing great work at the ground level and have made a difference. These have been important but small victories, with individuals and groups doing the best they can, and quite often being driven by their own passion and their own resources. The crisis of the vanishing tigers is far from over, and it will need a change in perspective and the collective will of the entire nation to turn the situation around. That’s not impossible by any means, but it’s still a task that needs to become our mission. This is an excerpt from the Mahabharata, which was written around 400 BC: “Do not cut down the forest with its tigers and do not banish the tigers from the forest. The tiger perishes without the forest and the forest perishes without its tigers. Therefore, the tigers should stand guard over the forest and the forest should protect all its tigers.” Are we paying any heed to the advice. Unfortunately, the answer is a big “No”.

MP to follow Guj’s model for worthy forest guards

TUESDAY, 06 NOVEMBER 2012 15:22 STAFF REPORTER | BHOPAL HITS: 24 State forest department may follow Gujarat's model for safety of the big cats by not recruiting "aged and more qualified" forest guards for its tiger reserves. A proposal in this regard is under consideration of the department. The move comes after recommendations of a three-member committee on several measures to protect tigers, including one to ban gathering of people in forest areas near tiger reserves where the big cats have been seen. "No matter what the minimum qualification is but it has been experienced that getting good marks in the test is no guarantee that the aspirant may be mentally and physically suitable to be appointed as forest guard. The guards need to be fit in such a way that they can roam around the forest and live in its far flung areas. It will be only possible when the recruitment rules are made on the lines of those formed by Gujarat State to keep suitable persons for the job. The conservation of forest is not likely to be done by over aged and over qualified guards," the committee, comprising senior Indian Forest Service officers, said. As per present recruitment rules, a person has to be Class tenth qualified, secure 70 marks in the written exam and about 9 marks in the interview. The report also noted that illegal activities like ration shops and cooking gas distribution centres were taking place in the core areas of tiger reserves. The committee found that none of about 60 forest circles have so far formed "rescue squad" to act in case of emergency, despite several reminders from the Government. The panel has also suggested measures to check 'picnic' activities near forest areas to avoid "man and wild animal conflicts." Taking note of the committee's recommendation, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), P K Shukla, has moved a proposal to recruit suitable persons as forest guards, as it is being done in Gujarat. As many as 295 posts, including 222 for forest guards, at various levels are lying vacant in six tigers reserves of Madhya Pradesh.